I recently decided to watch as many of the Jane Eyre adaptations I could get my hands on. Growing up Jane Eyre was my favorite book and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read the story, so I wanted to see how each film or mini-series held its own to the book itself. There have been so many adaptations or spin-offs of the story, I recently looked in IMDb and they had a list of 45 different adaptations. FORTY-FIVE! I was only able to find and watch seven so don’t fret. We will not be here all day I promise as I talk about all 45. That would be a lot!
For those who do not know the story of Jane Eyre a brief abridged version of it is this. Jane as a child lives with her aunt and cousins who despise her and then is sent to a very strict and religious school where she stays until she is about 18. She then applies and accepts a job as a governess at Thornfield Hall where she meets Mr. Rochester. Over most of the book and after many odd scenarios he asks her to marry him, she accepts and then we find out Mr. Rochester has a wife who is mad and lives up in a tower. Jane runs away and meets St. John who is a paster and soon to be missionary and his two sisters. St. John asks her to marry him, Jane refuses and goes back to see what happened to Mr. Rochester. She finds the hall burned, the wife dead and Mr. Rochester badly scarred, but they ultimately marry in the end. I want to keep it brief because I want you to go read the book! Sorry for the spoilers though.
Now one thing I will say though since going back and reading over the book and watching the adaptations recently I came to realize Mr. Rochester is a HUGE manipulator and not the greatest person. He messes with Jane’s brain a lot in my opinion and flip flops about with what he wants to say just to mess with Jane. Not to mention he’s hiding the fact that his wife is living in the same house just a few floors above Jane. I am not impressed with his character and believe him to be quite a narcissist, but I also do feel a BIT sorry for him because as he explains in the book he was tricked into marrying his wife and did not know she was mad until it was too late. It all boiled down to money and his father’s greed that kind of screwed over Mr. Rochester. Maybe you’ll read the book and then let me know what you think!
The earliest version I watched was the 1943 adaptation with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. This one in my opinion focused too much on Orson Welles as Mr. Rochester and not enough on Jane. He had too many long monologues that made you think he was the main character. There were also quite a lot of liberties taken to leave take the story line in my opinion and it felt quite abrupt as it only was 97 minutes long. I also felt Jane was too weepy of a character in this version. She really didn’t have a backbone and with how eloquent and outspoken Orson Welles was I feel like she fell short. My dad who watched a snippet of this one mentioned that as well briefly, “boy she cries a lot in this one.” Another complaint I had were the costumes were from the wrong period. Watching it in black and white was cool though because it gave it almost a creepier vibe in the dark parts of the movie. I’m glad I saw this one at least once.
The next one on the list was an abridged version of the story done for Matinee Theater in 1957 with the episode just titled Jane Eyre. It was about forty minutes long, so I was already a bit incredulous before I even started. I will be honest I wasn’t able to get past about the first ten minutes of it. They rushed everything, since they had no time really. They completely changed up parts of the story, probably to fit their abridged version better, and the costumes were all the wrong era as well. In my notes I was kind of upset with this one and wrote, “is this a joke?” Sorry to whoever starred in this or made it, but I was not impressed, and I don’t think anyone needs to waste their time with this one.
The next one was also a tv movie in 1970 with George C. Scott and Susannah York as the main actors. This one was longer for sure, but the acting was way too dramatic to be realistic to me and the story line was very abrupt, and did not go into very much detail. They’d touch a tiny bit on an aspect of the story and then jump to another one right away. I didn’t like the main actors either. This one was another one I could only get into partially and so skimmed over most of it. They did at least get their costumes in the right era though so I was happy about that.
The next rendition was the 1983 version with Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton. This one is a mini-series and is one of my two favorite versions of Jane Eyre for multiple reasons. The first is because it is a mini-series they really go into detail with the story, and it does not feel rushed like the movies do. They also stick very close to the book and don’t veer off to make a better movie scene for example. Another reason is I really enjoy the acting of both Clarke and Dalton. Their acting off each other is good plus they both are good stand-alone actors and do not seem to overshadow each other. Jane has more character to her and you get to watch her grow throughout the series. The musical score really fit the show as well. If you were to watch a Jane Eyre adaptation this would be one of the ones I would recommend. There are a few parts that seem a bit slow to me, but there are not many and those are made up with other scenes in the series that really grip you.
The 1997 movie version with Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds comes next and is another one that sorely lacks a lot of the depth the mini-series gave the story. It felt very rushed, and they took too many liberties with the story line even switching around major parts to fit their movie plot better. It was another shorter movie, about an hour and forty minutes long. I did like Morton’s take on Jane though, she was a strong character throughout and Hinds really did well with bringing out the rough side to Mr. Rochester. I just felt the version was far too abridged and I was left wanting a lot more from it.
My other favorite rendition of Jane Eyre is the 2006 BBC mini-series with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. Like the 1983 mini-series there was lots of time to tell the whole story, so they were able to go into good detail. The acting was my favorite out of all the versions I have seen as well. The chemistry between the two leads was very good and their conversations felt very realistic and almost not acted at all. Plus Wilson’s Jane was the strongest and most confident in my opinion. She talks back to Mr. Rochester quite a bit more than any of the other’s and holds her own well. I would highly recommend watching this version if you are interested in a good rendition. I was also very impressed because even though this one was one of the longer ones there was good pacing and you felt very engaged through the whole show.
The last one I saw is the most recent adaptation from 2011 with Mia Waskowska and Michael Fassbender. I remember being very excited when the trailer came out for it and I think I might have seen this one in the theaters, I can’t exactly remember. It is a movie not a mini-series though and when I watched it again recently, I was left wanting a lot more. It was another one that was abrupt and glossed over too much of the story in my opinion. I did like Waskowska’s take on Jane, she did a good job. I felt like Fassbender’s Mr. Rochester was too rushed though and almost too smooth around the edges if that can be a thing. I wasn’t as invested in his take on the character. Plus, I was very upset with the ending. It was way too rushed, and I remember saying out loud when it ended, “wait that’s it!?”
The only version that I didn’t get to see that I wish I had is the 1996 movie version. I can’t find it anywhere and I was trying to just either watch these renditions free off the web or from my library. After watching them all I concluded the story really needs to be told in a mini-series or it is too rushed, and you miss so much of the story. You are left wanting so much more from the movie versions. I also really liked the versions that showed Jane in a more confident light and where you watched her character grow throughout the story. This is a book named after her anyways, so I feel giving her the spotlight and not Mr. Rochester is a given (ahem Orson Welles….sorry). Sure, he is a main character as well, but Jane’s character should have a bit more in my opinion than his. and lastly boy, Mr. Rochester…. like I wrote a bit at the beginning, his character is very manipulative. It was interesting to watch through and really notice that about him as you repeatedly watch the story over and over. All in all though I still really like the story and definitely recommend the book to anyone who wants a good classic to read. I would save your time though and watch both the mini-series and then decide after if you want to watch the movie versions. In my opinion you aren’t missing much by not watching the movie versions. What do you think? Have you watched any of these versions? And which is your favorite if you have?
3 Comments Add yours
Wow Mikaela, I’m really impressed with your writing and critic skills. Perhaps being a movie and book critic is your true calling!
Honestly, I wasn’t sure about wanting to see or read Jane Eyre, but after reading your review, I may just watch one of the mini-series as you offered enough of the story to interest me. I get a few channels up here, so perhaps one of the mini-series is there; I’ll have to have a look. Or perhaps I’ll read the book.
Your writing is very clear and smooth. I was pleased to see that you moved through each version of Jane Eyre very quickly, but offered enough detail that by the end, I found the story interesting and compelling, yet understood that each version was very different. Obviously some are much better than others which is very nice to know!
The 1996 was the one that I watched most recently as a way to introduce my husband to Jane Eyre. I’m not sure if it was the greatest one (I honestly couldn’t remember which renditions were good because I’ve seen so many through the years), but being Zeffirelli means it’s a beautifully directed one. I recommend you try to find it. At least my husband enjoyed this shorter one- maybe I can get him to watch a miniseries in the future 🙂
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I need to find it!! I really want to watch it!! I’d recommend trying the 2006 mini series if you watch one of them!! It’s definitely my favorite 😊